South Africa: Eskom working hard to keep the lights on

Eskom01 March 2014, Tshwane – Although the country’s power supply will remain constrained going into the winter months, government — cognisant of electricity supply disruptions on the economy — is working together with Eskom to ensure that the lights stay on, Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba said on Tuesday.

Speaking at this year’s first quarterly state of the electricity system briefing, Minister Gigaba said he was encouraged by the power utility’s efforts to keep the lights on. Since November 2013, Eskom has declared three power emergencies, in which it had asked both its industrial and residential customers to reduce their power usage.

Last Thursday, the power utility declared an emergency as the power system was severely constrained due to the loss of additional generating units from the power station fleet, reduced imports and the extensive use of emergency reserves.

“They have been able to avoid a system collapse when no further reserves were available in the system,” said Minister Gigaba.

Last week, Eskom asked industrial customers to reduce their power use by 10%.

“We are fully aware of the disruptive element of power constraints, particularly on the economy, and wish to give the reassurance that this situation we are going through is only but transient.

“We will restore our country’s energy security and sustainability to the system. It must be noted that Eskom continues to manage a delicate system,” said Minister Gigaba.

Since the power emergency was enacted and lifted, maintenance work at plants was continuing.

“As we move to winter, I’d like to urge that electricity be used sparingly. During the months of April to July, the system will be extremely tight,” said the minister.

He said the utility was walking a tight rope to ensure that the lights remained on and that rolling blackouts are avoided, as experienced in the past.

Minister Gigaba noted that in light of the reduced revenue that the utility was operating on, the company had not been able to renew some of the short term supply side options. The Department of Public Enterprises, as the shareholder department, would continue to support the utility.

Despite challenges, plant performance was stabilising, while coal stock remained at healthy levels (at 48 days in December), noted Minister Gigaba.

Outgoing Eskom CEO Brian Dames said it had been hard work keeping the lights on.

“However, we will not allow a situation where we lose control of the system. We have avoided load shedding,” he said, adding that a lot of contribution in keeping the lights on had been from the utility’s customers.

January 2014 saw a 500 MW higher demand in electricity than January 2013.

“We have to support trade but we don’t compromise South Africa,” said Dames of Eskom’s export and import of electricity.

Eskom is a member of the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) and trades with neighbouring countries.

“Without supply to and from each other as SADC countries (i.e. imports and exports), our power systems and economies would be impacted negatively,” said Eskom chairperson Zola Tsotsi. The system is expected to remain tight until the build programme delivers new power. Progress at the Medupi power station was coming along, as well as that of the Kusile power plant.

“A lot of work has happened since December,” said Dames.

Medupi’s first unit is still expected to be synchronised in the second half of this year.

Eskom’s current fleet of power stations is at average 30 years old and requires higher levels of planned maintenance work.

Planned outages vary between 5GW to 6GW up to April 2014, thereafter between 4GW and 5GW and by June will decrease to about 2GW.

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